Book Review: The Totally Sweet ’90s By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper & Brian Bellmont (2013)

the totally sweet 90s by gael fashingbauer cooper & brian bellmont When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I became incredibly nostalgic for my 80s childhood. I don’t know what it was, but all I wanted to do was watch He-Man and Transformers cartoons, which I was able to find at a nearby Blockbuster in a big for-sale box. This was before the days where everything was readily available on DVD or even streaming, so it wound up being a huge find. I also dug out my parents’ Betamax which allowed me to watch old home movies as well as TV shows we taped (I love watching old tapes like that not just because of the cartoon content, but the commercials too!).

But, the truth is that, as much as I feel like a child of the 80s, I’m equally a product of the 90s. That decade took me from 6 to 16 and helped introduce me to some of the most influential things in my life from movies and music to the job I would have for the next five years, the end of grade school and the beginning of high school and crazy-future-tech like cell phones, home computers and the internet. So, when I got a PR email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont’s The Totally Sweet 90s: From Clear Cola to Furby, and Grunge to “Whatever”, the Toys, Tastes, and Trends That Defined a Decade, I jumped at the chance.

In addition to having a strong connection to that decade, I also realized that I hadn’t really read or looked into 90s nostalgia. Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont’s book does exactly that by running down a list of alphabetically ordered topics, talking about them for a few paragraphs and offering an update as well as a fun fact about each. The book kicks off with “Adam Sandler Songs On Saturday Night Live” and ends with “Zubaz” to give you an idea of what you’ll be dealing with.

It was a lot of fun taking this trip down memory lane which combined with my own experience, but also moved into topics I was unfamiliar with like the short-lived MTV series Austin Stories and Coke’s attempt to get Generation X bucks with OK Soda. The short-and-sweet format of the book kept me moving from section to section with a quickness I wish I could harness when reading fiction.

It might seem like the subject matter is light and somewhat inconsequential (how important can Orbitz, Scrunchies and Pogs be?), but the intro made a really interesting point that I hadn’t thought about: many of the elements of modern life we take for granted began life in the 90s. I’m a firm believer that you can’t really appreciate today without having a fairly good working knowledge of yesterday. The Totally Sweet 90s might not get into in-depth analysis of the decade, but it does start the process by presenting a sample of the things that were popular to the young people of that generation.

My only complaint about the book is that there aren’t enough pictures. I know from being a research assistant for so many years, though, that including a lot of photos of copyrighted materials can be difficult and, worse, pricey. The ones that are included in the book are usually of toys or products which are cool to shoot and print. On a somewhat related note, I haven’t seen the Kindle or digital version of this book, but I can imagine that it would make for a really cool experience, especially if links to various images and/or videos were included. I have no idea what the feasibility of something like that is, but it’d be rad.

Finally, I just want to throw in another way this book made me nostalgic, but for a much more recent time. While reading The Totally Sweet 90s, I had all kinds of flashbacks to my days working for Wizard and ToyFare. This book is basically one giant list and list features were always interesting to work on. I helped with everything from the coolest single issue comic stories and best villains to coolest toy action features and best movie fights, plus many more. Instead of imagining Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont sitting around a room trying to figure out their list, I went right back to the old Wizard conference room where we’d first hash out exactly what the list was supposed to be about (an important step some outlets tend to gloss over, resulting in a poor list) and then coming up with every possible entry. From there you start crossing off. Once you’ve witled your kitchen sink list to the number you’re going for (10, 50, 100, whatever), then you get to have the fun talks about what makes one entry better than another which results in the final order. It was a long process, sometimes taking several meetings a week, but I loved taking part when I could.

So, for being a fun time capsule of a very important time in my life and reminding me of some fun professional memories that I’d lost touch with, I give The Totally Sweet ’90s a thumbs up. If you’re interested in checking the book out, follow the above link. The book will be out tomorrow.

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